Review: Thunderball

thunderball_cov.jpgYear: 1965
Director: Terence Young
Starring: Sean Connery, Adolfo Celi, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 85

Plot
James Bond travels to Nassau to try to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE.

Quick Review
Overall I was surprised how much more I liked Thunderball than the previous Bond movies. Thunderball felt fresh, quick, and much more modern than the previous efforts. The action scenes, somewhat laughable in Dr. No, are now much more polished and entertaining. The uniqueness of the underwater scenes, the dramatic underwater footage, and the excellent choreography are timeless in their brilliance. There are problems with Thunderball, for sure: the choppy editing, the somewhat jumpy plot, and the weak script pull things down. Still, the positives in this movie greatly outweigh the negatives. Thunderball is the quickest, most entertaining Bond to date, and gives the series a shot of adrenaline. We happily present it with a Bronze Explosion Award for its phenomenal underwater action and overall quality.

Full Review
Thunderball strikes me as the first James Bond movie to truly fall into the action movie category. Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger relied heavily on drama, suspense, and intrigue to hold the viewer’s attention, whereas Thunderball takes a bold step forward with its frequent and daring action sequences. The differences from Goldfinger, its immediate predecessor, are startling. Although the two movies were released only a year apart, Thunderball feels as if were made years later: the pace is faster, the action is more violent, and the special effects are more modern.

thunderball1.jpgFor the most part, this emphasis on action works well. A lot of the action occurs underwater, and these scenes deserve special mention. I can’t think of another movie that delivers so much underwater action so well. The large underwater battle toward the end of the movie, in my mind, is a clear candidate for All-Time Best Action Scene, and is a visual treat to watch more than 40 years later. It is amazingly constructed, beautifully shot, and filled with brutal fighting. They even manage to add sharks to the fight! Sharks are like Godzilla: they make any movie better. This battle does run a bit long, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Kudos all around in this regard.

The rest of the action in the movie is surprisingly vigorous. In fothunderball3.jpgur short years, the series has made significant strides from the dopey fighting and goofy “dragon battle” of Dr. No. In Thunderball, fights are better choreographed, more violent, and faster. One-punch knockouts are now rare. One exception would have to be the final fight aboard the Disco Volante, the main villain’s ship. The shots of the water and rocks outside the ship simply don’t match the action inside the boat, and the scene turns cheesy because of this. In a movie with so many good action scenes, this final scene seems rushed and sloppy.

The acting and characters in Thunderball are good all around. Sean Connery is as good here as he is in Goldfinger, although he seems to have dropped a notch in the looks department. As an aside, it’s interesting to note the progression of James Bond; he is more “larger than life” and more heroic in Thunderball than in previous movies. Adolfo Celi is strong and intelligent as the main villain. On the whole, the enemies in Thunderball are smarter and nastier, and this helps the action scenes a lot. claudine_auger.jpgClaudine Auger is dazzling as Domino, and Luciana Paluzzi brilliantly fits the role of the evil assistant to Emilio Largo. Speaking of these women, they rock the Babe rating of this movie! Claudine Auger is incredibly beautiful. Luciana Paluzzi is sexy as hell. Together they make the best Bond-women combination in the series so far.

There are other positives as well. Thunderball’s stunt rating is sky high, mainly thanks to the incredible work in the undersea battle. Special effects are better. The level of technology in Thunderball well surpasses that of Goldfinger, and leaves From Russia with Love in the dust. The climax of the film is dramatic and satisifying, with the noted exception of the fight aboard the Disco Volante.

While it might sound so far as if I think this movie is perfect, the reality is that there are some significant weak spots in Thunderball. While the plot is good enough, it is not as precise as the previous Bond films. The scene transitions in the first half of the movie feel especially choppy and jumpy. For a little while I was confused as to who was who, and was confused as to what was going on. There are also spots in the movie where you’re not really sure why Bond is doing what he is doing. Scenes pop up a bit too mysteriously and on the whole the plot seems to get somewhat lost in the middle of the movie. Lastly, the deadline to meet the extortion demands could have been used more effectively to build up pressure in the story.

luciana_paluzzi.jpgThe movie does a fair job of sticking to its premise, although in two places I felt that things broke down significantly. First, I’m not sure I see why Bond would travel to Nassau to investigate the sister of the dead pilot Bond saw at the rehabilitation facility. Seems to be contrived that the sister would somehow be connected to the plot to steal the nuclear warheads, but oh, well. Also, how does Bond find Domino so quickly before their first meeting? Things are a bit shaky here, to say the least.

The script in Thunderball seemed a notch below that of the previous efforts. Many of Bond’s one liners fall flat, not so much from Connery’s delivery, but from a genuine lack of quality writing. They could have done much better in this area.

Overall, however, I was surprised how much more I liked Thunderball than the previous Bond movies. Thunderball felt fresh, quick, and much more modern than the previous efforts. The action scenes, somewhat laughable in Dr. No, are now much more polished and entertaining. The uniqueness of the underwater scenes, the dramatic underwater footage, and the excellent choreography are timeless in their brilliance. There are problems with Thunderball, for sure: the choppy editing, the somewhat jumpy plot, and the weak script pull things down. Still, the positives in this movie greatly outweigh the negatives. Thunderball is the quickest, most entertaining Bond to date, and gives the series a shot of adrenaline. We happily present it with a Bronze Explosion Award for its phenomenal underwater action and overall quality.

Fun Fact
According to IMDB, this film was Sean Connery’s favorite performance as James Bond.

Purchasing Info
The newly released James Bond Ultimate Editions are a great way to purchase restored versions of the older Bond movies. I have noticed these movies on sale individually as well.

Score
Pace: 78
Plot: 55
Action: 83
Consistent Premise: 66
Script/Quotes: 28
Characters: 85
Acting: 78
Villain: 77
Body Count: 75
Time to First Dead Body: Fast
Babes: 86
Hunks: 93
Explosions: 38
Special Effects: 25
Stunts: 93
Ending: 85

Overall: 85 (Bronze Explosion Award Winner)

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